Millennials Choose Socialism (2018 Jan)

by Barry A. Liebling

The politics of millennials – those born in the 1980s and 1990s – are diverse. They, like members of any generation, display heterogeneity. If you question a lot of them you can find representatives with nearly any political orientation you can name. But there is interesting news about this age group. An increasing proportion of millennials report that they are sympathetic to socialism and have antipathy for capitalism. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that numerous national surveys are evidence for this trend.

These finding will inspire leftist progressives to feel satisfied and congratulate themselves on the success of their messaging. Conversely, pro-capitalists – which include libertarians and conservatives – will experience frustration and ask what is causing this shift and what they should do to help millennials understand that the free market is superior to anything under the heavy thumb of the government.

Consider what the surveys actually indicate and how the results should be interpreted.

First, what does it mean when millennials respond to a question like “What do you prefer capitalism or socialism?” There will be a small proportion of participants who thoroughly understand and can articulate exactly what capitalism and socialism entail. These survey respondents will take their knowledge into account when they answer. But there is a much larger proportion of millennials who cannot accurately describe the essential differences between the systems. Still, since they are asked a question they will provide an answer – a response that is based on gut feelings rather than on sound reasoning. The lesson here is that when socialism or capitalism is “preferred” by a large number of survey participants it does not follow that they understand the topic. It only signifies that one of the systems obtained a lot of votes (for reasons difficult to assess).

Many pro-capitalist enthusiasts have two common explanations – each flawed – as to why young people feel friendly toward socialism. One is that hard times make young people reject capitalism and seek to be rescued by the government. In fact, economic opportunities are poor for millennials compared to what was experienced by their elders. Millennials are having difficulty obtaining good jobs. When asked, they expect to make less money than their parents did. And millennials are more likely than past generations to be dependent and even live with their parents well into adulthood. This must result in frustration. And socialism – an activist government – is viewed as a possible path to a better life.

But the problem with the “poor economy leads to desire for socialism” explanation is that it assumes that the millennials are socialist-sympathetic even before they notice that things are tough. They probably obtained their flawed belief prior to their suffering. The leftist mantra is that capitalism (freedom) is the culprit behind most problems and socialism is the panacea for making things better. Note well that while the recession was real – and painful – the cause of the poor economy is in dispute. The correct interpretation is that government intervention itself caused the recession, and the solution is to get the government out of the way. This thought does not occur to many millennials.

A second, mistaken, explanation for millennials’ infatuation with socialism is that they are ignorant, uneducated, unsophisticated. The problem is that they were not schooled in how the economy works. But exactly the opposite is the case. Various leftist cabals have nearly complete control over the public school system. Millennials were indoctrinated from elementary school through graduate school by the progressive-left narrative that capitalism is harsh and greedy and fundamentally corrupt. By contrast socialism (they were assured) is kind-hearted, generous, and basically the only way to be moral.

In light of the instruction they received in school, the interesting question is why there are not more millennials touting socialism. While some are taken in with the dominant left-wing propaganda there are also many who do not buy into it at all – no matter how many times their teachers insist that socially progressive politics is virtuous and free market capitalism is vile. Of course, some millennials are aware of the history of socialism. It consistently leads to profound misery (North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, the former Soviet Union are large-scale famous examples. And the leftist retort is that life is virtually heaven in Scandinavia where taxes are high and the government dominates nearly everything.)

Since we are considering surveys notice who designs and conducts them. The majority of pollsters – especially those with high academic credentials – are dedicated leftists and will (perhaps intentionally) write questions that encourage participants to give the politically correct response (Capitalism cruel, Socialism good).

How can free market advocates help millennials understand and appreciate the virtues of capitalism and see socialism for what it is? The answer is not to launch a counter-propaganda blitz. Since the problem is lack of understanding, the solution is to explain clearly what the core issues are. Messages have to be developed and sent to millennials that accurately describe the fundamental, conceptual distinctions between socialism and capitalism. In a socialist system “expert planners” direct and supervise most aspects of your life. You belong to the state and are expected to comply with orders. Your personal preferences count for little compared to your duty to sacrifice yourself for the “greater good.” In a true free market capitalist society you have sovereignty over your own life. You have a right to life, liberty, property, and are free to make your own decisions on how to act – as long as you do not violate anyone else’s rights. The choice between the two alternatives should be obvious.

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